NWFP politics 1937-1947

I highly recommend Ethnicity, Islam and Nationalism: Muslim politics in the North-Wester Frontier Province 1937-47 by Sayyid Vaqar Ali Shah for anyone interested in weighing the merits of ethnic particularism versus Muslim communalism as a basis for political identity in Pakistan. The power struggle between the Frontier Congress and the Khudai Khidmatgars versus the Muslim League is really interesting as a case study for anyone thinking about this question.

Another question the book deals with is the difficulty faced by muslim politicians like Dr. Khan Sahib in being fair to minorities and not being labeled as “anti-muslim”:

In early January 1947 a pregnant Sikh woman, Basanti (Pesari in some accounts) was abducted by Muslim gangsters from a village in Hazara. The members of her family including her husband were killed. She was forcibly converted to Islam, renamed Aasia, and married to a Muslim, M. Zaman. She was recovered by the authorities but her conversion became a serious issue. The Muslims claimed her conversion to be voluntary, while the Sikhs believed that she was forcibly converted and demanded that she be handed back to them. To investigate whether her conversion was voluntary or not, it was decided to send her to Peshawar to ‘give an unbiased statement’, and she was put in Dr. Khan Sahib’s custody. At the end of her stay in the Premier’s House, in the presence of her Sikh relatives and her Muslim husband she stated that she wanted to be sent back to her relatives and to return to Sikhism. The rumour quickly spread that the Sikh woman accepted Islam of her free-will but was compelled by Dr Khan Sahib to revert to Sikhism.

One of the most disturbing parts of the book is the description of the pressure placed on the Dr. Khan Sahib’s Congress ministry after 1946 by the Frontier Muslim League and the Governor Olaf Caroe. The governor had the right to dissolve the provincial ministry and was extremely eager to exercise this right:

Lord Ismay, an old friend of Caroe was sent by the Viceroy to the Frontier to apprise him of the latest situation. After prolonged discussions with the Governor, Ismay came to share Caroe’s views. He recommended to the Viceroy that the Governor should be allowed to use his Special Powers, by dissolving the Frontier ministry and declaring Governor’s rule in the NWFP. Ismay also suggested to the Viceory, that to obtain a peaceful resolution of the Frontier imbroglio, either a coalition government of the League and Congress should be formed, or an announcement should be made by the Governor for the holding of fresh general elections before the transfer of power. Mountbatten then summoned Lt.Col. de la Fargue, the former Chief Secretary for the NWFP, and asked for his confidential opnion. Col. la Fargue opined that in the case of fair and free elections in the Frontier, Congress would be successful. However, Mitchell, the newly appointed Chief Secretary, assessed the situation differently. He and other senior bureaucrats were convinced that unless the Congress could offer some substantial proof of change in policy to accommodate the Leaguers’ demands, there would be no end to communal violence [note: so placing the onus of ending communal violence initiated by the League on the Congress ministry!] Dr. Khan Sahib’s adamant refusal to yield to League pressure had upset Caroe. According to him, the Premier ‘entirely fails to appreciate the strength that lies behind the League movement’. pp 210-211
[…]
Throughout this period, Jinnah was engaged in persuading the Viceroy to dissolve the Congress ministry, but the Viceroy refused bluntly. Mountbatten was aware of the Congress pressure on him if he dissolved the ministry without any valid reason. He considered dissolution not only ‘wrong morally and legally’ but also, according to him, it would ‘shake the confidence of Congress’ in Mountbatten’s impartiality and might ‘well invite violence in other part sof India leading to further attempts to overthrow legally constituted and popularly elected Governments.’ pp. 216-217

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6 responses to “NWFP politics 1937-1947

  1. takhalus

    The problem had developed over a few years..the increasingly secular philosophy of the Frontier Congress was building resentment from the Pakhtun conservative society. It wasn’t that the Muslim League was particularly religious ..but it was socially more conservative. Dr. Khan Sahib never hid his liberal inclinations his own daughter married a Sikh man who converted to Christianity and Ghaffars son Ghani married a parsee but refused to do a nikkah. Events like those would have been scandalous in those days even in Bombay or Delhi ..by Peshawar standards they were unheard of..

    It also aided the process of branding Ghaffars philosophy as irreligious or pro Hindu or communist. As one writer wrote to paraphrase Gandhi was killed by a Hindu for being allegedly pro Muslim while Ghaffar was smeared and imprisoned for being pro Hindu

  2. Rabia

    I would guess that the Khan brothers’ liberalism on issues like jihad (on which they were called “effeminate”) and protection of minorities (“hindu-lovers”) etc, was probably more of an issue than a liberal lifestyle… I mean, Jinnah wasn’t exactly a model of Islamic living..

  3. Rabia

    this is kind of a random question, but:

    Do you know anything about the PATA regulations? I mean, not the laws themselves, but the government’s motivations in keeping them in place? I ask because I am trying to understand what happened in 1994… do you believe that Sufi Muhammad’s movement was a convenient excuse for the army/federal government to maintain a PATA-like situation in the region after the Malakand lawyer’s successfully got the PHC to strike down the PATA regulations?

  4. takhalus

    Rabia: The regulations themselves were passed in 1976 and were marginally different to FATA..as the areas in question were ruled by authoritarian figures and not by a tribal system it deferred more to the authorties than it did to the locals. Also the provincial govt could not pass any laws with reference to the region but the National Assembly could ..similarly the high court had no jurdisaction but the supreme court did..

    It was the supreme court that struck down PATA in 1994 under Sherpao. No other government was interested in revoking it because for the zia it was easier to exercise control via it..while for the democratic ones it was just expediency.

  5. Rabia

    thanks. I just wonder who would have had the most to gain from replacing PATA with the nizam-e-adal ordinance rather than what the lawyers who took the case to the supreme court wanted (which was the pakistan penal code)

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